Monday, June 27, 2011

Turning open government petitions into policies in Latvia, using online banking to authenticate citizens

It can be difficult to get a perspective on the Government 2.0 activities in non-English speaking countries.

However thanks to Francis Irving, who posted an account in the My Society email list in the UK, forwarded to the OpenAustralia Community list in Australia, here's a very interesting mini case-study on one initiative in Latvia.

In this case the initiative was created outside of government, however has become part of their parliamentary and law-making process.

It involves using online banking accounts to identify users, in partnership with the major local banks. This is an approach I've not seen used anywhere else in the world.

It is a well-structured open government initiative and one that I think Australia could do well to model similar activities on.

I've quoted Francis' email below. To learn more, join the OpenAustralia Community list.

Francis Irving (posted 24/6/2011):
I just met Kristofs Blaus, who spent a year researching petition / online initiative projects across the world. i.e. things where citizens propose and vote on new laws.

He launched ( in Latvia two weeks ago. Already two laws are going into force entirely because of the site.

Six things you ought to know about it:
  1. 2 days after launch, the president of Latvia promoted an initiative on the site because 20,000 people had signed it. It is to open the owners of offshore companies. Within 1 week of launch (i.e. last week!) it was passed in to law.

    You can watch for future ones being signed into law on this page:

    (What self respecting e-democracy site doesn't have a specific, high profile page, just showing things it has got passed into law!) 

  2. Within 2 weeks, a second initiative got enough support that both major groups in Parliament now support it (it'll become law after the recess in September). It's a meta-law - it makes the platform itself mandatory, so if any petition gets 10,000 authorised signatures, then the creator gets 5 minutes in Parliament to present it.

  3. There is a workflow process for making sure the initiatives that get through are sensible (rather than tabloidy stuff that tends to be popular on the UK's no. 10 petition site)
    1. You write an original draft
    2. Comments by skilled volunteers tell you what is wrong with it.
    3. You can fix it up.
    4. Then you gather support. You get a URL. The initiative doesn't appear in an index on the site, you have to promote it yourself.
    5. When you get 100 people (they're going to up it to 1000 due to popularity)
    6. Some real volunteer lawyers make it into a proper, viable legal text in a PDF on the initiative page.
    7. It goes on the public site, where large numbers of people can back it.

  4. That process ensures that:
    - It is a real proposal rather than aspirational
    - It can regulated by legislation
    - Technical details, such as if it requies a constitutional change it is written in the right form

  5. It's social. The GroupOn/PledgeBank nature of gathering support, and then later the petition nature of getting people to back finalised initiatives, both encourage spread. It links to your Facebook/Twitter so the initiatives can have a montage

  6. To ensure it can't be gamed, you authenticate yourself to the site using your online bank account (via your social security numebr). It launched (undemocratically!) with just one bank, but the others were then deseparate to be added.

  7. The site is now wildly popular. It trends all the time on Latvian Twitter. Politicians fall over themselves to back it. The media love it, as articles they publish about it get traffic from the site.
An article in English about it, but rare. Nobody has heard of this thing yet. Except you for being smart enough to be on this list ;)

Notably the two people who made it are businessmen rather than programmers. The coding was done by staff at Kristofs's company.

Kristofs Blaus - business strategy, inventing new products
Jānis Erts - marketing (he made this fake metorite
Obviously, the above formulae is easy to critique in the UK. But I'm not really interested in that kind of stop energy.

What is extraordinary is that the right combination done in the right way can be wildly successful. That is almost certainly true here.

If anyone on the list wants to help Kristofs do that, please email me privately.


1 comment:

  1. Looking for people elsewhere that would like to help launching the solution in their countries. Please let us know! Kristofs Blaus (